Even though other European explorers had reached China by the time Marco Polo, his father, and his uncle had done so in the late 13th century, the colorful tales the young traveller spun upon his return of foreign lands, strange customs, and riches untold captivated the imagination of the populace like no other. He voyaged farther than his predecessors despite illness, weather, and sea conditions that easily could have convinced him to end the journey. Perhaps most important, he inspired other hopeful explorers, most notably Christopher Columbus, to undertake their own ambitious quests.
Nearly five years ago, Roland Sturm, a yachtsman who's much of a modern-day explorer, set out on a quest of a similar kind: to find a way to safely and comfortably travel to the corners of the world. Since he'd already cruised the world aboard sailing yachts, sometimes in remote regions, he wanted to build a power explorer that was still a true motoryacht.
While many a builder has laid claim to offering an expedition or even expedition-style yacht, sometimes the emphasis was more on "style": The vessel looked like a rugged cruiser but wasn't intended for or, in some cases, capable of treading where tough conditions reigned. Not good enough for Sturm. He envisioned his motoryacht not just undertaking long-term voyages but also crossing oceans on her own bottom. Knowledgeable about design and engineering and willing to try something different, he also envisioned her embracing strict construction standards, particularly from the commercial marine industry when it came to reducing maintenance and increasing the ability to cruise fuel efficiently.
Sturm had already assembled a management team in the form of Maritime Concept and Construction (MCC)—which included the captain of his prior yacht, an Abeking & Rasmussen aluminum ketch—and tapped noted naval architect Ron Holland, who had designed the ketch. All that was left to do was to find a shipyard willing and able to meet his exacting needs.
The recommendation, made by Holland and Albrecht Buchner, project manager of MCC, initially came as a bit of a surprise: Cheoy Lee. Not that Sturm hadn't heard of the China-based yard, which opened its doors in 1870 and since the 1960's has been making a name for itself on American shores with its fiberglass boats. According to Holland, he wasn't as familiar with Cheoy Lee's extensive commercial background and its experience with metal fabrication. To date the shipyard has delivered scores of tugs, landing craft, container vessels, and multipurpose utility vessels all over the world. So once Holland and Buchner relayed these facts, Sturm was onboard.
Thus the 147-foot Marco Polo was born.
This article originally appeared in the February 2008 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.